The Minnesota Vikings opened up the preseason Saturday afternoon with a disappointing 33-6 loss to the Denver Broncos and Mike Zimmer was not a happy camper following the game.
To be fair, there was a lot that went into the head coach's displeasure. The team on the field Saturday afternoon was missing tackles, showcasing mental lapses, botching coverages and failing to execute against what should have been a fairly familiar opponent whom they had practiced with this past week. None of that makes a coach happy, but getting to know Mike Zimmer over the past seven seasons, there seemed to be something else stuck in his craw after the game.
Here's the tell.
When Mike is frustrated about something, he speaks his mind. You can see some pretty clear examples of this in both his halftime report and his postgame conversation with KFAN from this weekend's game. Not a whole lot of time for nonsense.
But then there's the time or two where Coach acts a little differently. In my opinion, hiding some of the meatier frustrations that might be plaguing him and this team.
At about the six-minute mark of Coach Zimmer's postgame press conference yesterday you'll see the moment that stuck out to me. Asked whether or not there was a concerted effort to not throw the ball as much with Kellen Mond because he had missed so much practice due to the COVID protocol, Zimmer hemmed and hawed before saying, "No, I won't get into that."
The coach had previously called out basically everyone on the team. His punter was "cause for concern", the cornerbacks were "not even close to the guy(s)", his defense "didn't tackle well", generally speaking it was a "very poor performance". But we don't want to get into the number of times that Kellen Mond threw the ball.
Let's unpack this a little bit.
Mond finished the day 6-for-16 passing for just 53 yards. It was some of the first real action he has seen this preseason and certainly some of the most valuable reps he could get given the amount of time that he missed while in the COVID protocol. After taking over at quarterback following Browning's pick-six, Mond had 46 offensive plays to his name. 30 of those 46, 65% ended up being running plays. That included more than half the plays in the team's two-minute drill to close the half and 11 straight runs on the Vikings opening drive in the third.
A.J. Rose Jr. had a heck of a game for someone most people had never heard of before Saturday. I mean, 100 yards is nothing to scoff at. But what good is getting your 5th string running back 25 carries when there are other focal points that might need more attention on roster for this game? Yes, Kene Nwangwu didn't carry the ball as a runner due to an injury early in the game, but lack of depth at the position shouldn't lead to wasted reps on someone who will at best this season be a reserve special teams player. Instead, you would think that would be a free pass to open up the playbook a bit more and really see what the young quarterback can do.
Zimmer has been pretty candid this week saying that Mond looks like he's playing in "slow-motion" right now, but that didn't appear to have changed his frustration with the run-pass balance the way that the first game was shaking out.
Klint Kubiak is in his first year as the offensive coordinator following the retirement of his father last January. We should remember that there is also going to be a learning curve for him as well. Sometimes you go into a game with a plan to work on or focus in on one particular area, but you also have to be an open thinker, take criticism and adjust on the go.
Mond's playing time is only going to go down in preseason game number two next week as Cousins and Stanley get thrown back into the mix. It will probably be less in game number three as well as the team will likely be readying to make a determination between Browning and Stanley to serve as the regular season backup. This might have been the team's best shot to see what they in their highly touted young quarterback this pre-season and they opted to run the ball 30 times with their backup line and 5th string running back instead.
That right there, is a missed opportunity.